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Miami Design Charrette Tackles Global Warming: "We Bring the Issue Home"

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Global warming is a major issue these days, affecting everything from an increased possibility of death and destruction courtesy of the next killer hurricane, to the seemingly improbable winter weather that turns entire stretches of the country into a scenic panorama that suggests we're entering a new ice age -- and even cheating spouses. Yet, for all the doubts and dismissals, the evidence is pretty clear that something is amiss with our environment. What else could account for the fact that huge chunks of the polar ice caps are giving way and leaving scarcely enough frozen tundra to refill the ice in our cocktail glasses on a Saturday night in South Beach?

Politicos can debate the cause and effect endlessly, but in Miami, one group is actually motivated enough to do something about this dilemma, and get the rest of us involved as well. On Saturday, June 21, the good folks in Wynwood are organizing a day of activities -- a "charrette," meaning "a collaborative session in which a group of designers drafts a solution to a design problem." In this case, it's a confab intended to shape a vision for smart and sustainable growth across Miami-Dade County, offering key strategies to cope with the imminent threats of our time, among them, rising seas, diminishing resources and an increasing population.

That sounds like a heady assignment, but the organizers also promise they'll be plenty of fun thrown into the mix as well.... including a welcome breakfast, a working lunch, a bike tour of Wynwood and -- the activity that attracted our interest in particular -- a happy hour at the conclusion.

We asked Celeste De Palma, Conservation Outreach Coordinator at the local Audubon Society in Miami, to give us some insight into the proceedings.

New Times: What inspired this idea?

Celeste De Palma: I've always been interested in growth and land-use issues. As the local grassroots chapter of the Audubon Society in Miami, we wanted to revitalize the Hold the Line Campaign that originally focused on preventing urban sprawl into the Everglades, and refocus it as an educational arm to address rising seas, aging infrastructure and a growing population in Miami-Dade County.

Thanks to a Fellowship by Audubon's Toyota TogetherGreen Program, I've been able to focus on revamping the Hold the Line Coalition.... [We've] taken a fresh take on climate change that focuses specifically on stopping urban sprawl into the Everglades and agricultural lands, and promoting public transit and sustainable growth as the means to preserve the environment and enhance our quality of life. This workshop seeks to introduce new people to the Coalition, and to bring people together to discuss climate change from a local perspective.

So how do you think this will translate on a practical level?

Once we break it down to the community level, climate change is an issue that is much more manageable. There are a number of solutions that we can apply to our communities that will make us more resilient. Take public transit, for instance. By adding more public transportation options we would be reducing our carbon emissions. This is one of the low hanging fruits to mitigate for climate change, and people can make that happen if they start approaching their local leaders in their municipalities.

What sort of activities can we expect?

We'll start the day with a "Bring your own Bike" tour of the Wynwood Walls by Wynwood Murals. Then we'll jump into a short expert panel that will set the stage for the afternoon design exercise. We have local experts presenting discussions of sustainability versus resiliency; an overview of Miami-Dade County and where we stand in terms of those issues; a regional look into where we could be if we implement good planning; the best practices that have been adopted around the world that we could easily adopt in Miami; and a presentation from a business leader urging entrepreneurs to take action on climate change.

We will then break for a delicious, organic lunch, and come back to work into six smaller groups for the design exercise. Each group will have a team of four moderators to help guide the conversation. The charrette will allow each participant to take the information and apply it to their own communities. By breaking down the county into bite-size areas, and by working in teams, participants will work together to identify the key resilient and sustainable practices their communities should adopt moving forward. This allows people to take matters into action and not feel overwhelmed with climate change.

After a long day of work we will close with a Happy Hour at Gramps Bar, which will provide the first drink on the house to the Miami Design Charrette participants!

How do you think local communities can make a difference when it comes to problems of global proportions?

We believe that pushing from the grassroots up will create a domino effect that will make our leaders act on climate. It is actually the Mayors of local municipalities who are taking substantial steps to make their communities more resilient. Slowly but surely, people are starting to realize how important it is to have political leadership on this issue, and are demanding action on climate change.

The change in the tone of the conversation is palpable; only two years ago, I would not have been able to utter the words "Climate Change" to an elected official without him or her shutting me down on the spot. That is progress, but it isn't enough. We need action, and we are working to develop the public voice on this issue.

Global warming seems to have become a political football. Why do you think it's become such a partisan issue?

It's puzzling, really, because when you look into our history, the environment has never been a partisan issue. In 1970, the Senate passed the Clean Air Act by a unanimous vote and Nixon established the EPA. It was clear that the environment concerned everyone no matter what their political affiliation. It's only smart to consider the environment as part of our economic vitality, especially in states like ours where a big portion of our economy is intimately tied to our environmental richness.

It seems that some people have forgotten that economic strength and environmental strength are not mutually exclusive, and I think that because some people are so focused on making a profit, it's easier to refer to taking care of the environment as a "burden on our economy." However, taking care of our environment and addressing climate change would open the door to the development of new technologies that would revitalize entire industries and create the jobs that our graduates are qualified for and eager to take. All of this would reinvigorate the entire economy and make our entire country more resilient and sustainable in the face of climate change.

The America I know has always been innovative and resilient. It endured and pushed through the Great Depression and the World Wars. I hope we can go back to our roots and tackle climate change instead of continue to stick our heads in the sand and point fingers at each other.

How do you intend to deal with it without injecting a political element or making it seem like you're taking sides?

We bring the issue home. When people start seeing their homes and their neighborhoods being directly affected, then people start demanding action. For us, it's a matter of doing something now, not waiting 50 years. Look at people being affected by climate change in Miami Beach right now. Have you been stuck during high tides on the beach lately? No matter which party you belong to, you want somebody--anybody--to do something to fix this. It's not about politics. We all need to be part of the solution, and we won't make it if we keep focusing on the political rhetoric.

How do you intend to blend the artistic/creative elements (this is in the Art Deco district after all) with the scientific/factual elements and make it all in sync?

[In] the design part of the workshop, the charrette, will allow everyone to contribute. Whereas one person would want to focus on transportation and infrastructure, another person will want to focus on community beautification and awareness. The beauty of having the event at Wynwood is that we can have the best of both worlds in one room: scientists, policy makers, tech entrepreneurs, designers, dancers, painters, artists. By having fresh and creative minds be part of this conversation, we will unite and enrich the discussion. I personally find it fascinating to have the opportunity to bring both worlds together to see what comes out of it.

The Charrette takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 21, at the Light Box, 404 NW 26th Street, Miami. Cost is $12, scholarships are available. For further information, go to eventbrite.com.

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